Discovery of Haryana: The state has not been able to encash the tourism potential of its historical buildings : The Tribune India

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Discovery of Haryana: The state has not been able to encash the tourism potential of its historical buildings

The state has it all to become a part of the famed tourist circuit, the Golden Triangle, provided it makes its presence felt

Discovery of Haryana: The state has not been able to encash the tourism potential of its historical buildings

The tomb of Sheikh Chilli at Thanesar, near Kurukshetra. ISTOCK

Madhulika Liddle

When I was a pre-teen, I lived with my family in Srinagar. Twice or thrice a year, we would drive down from the Kashmir valley to Delhi, or Chandigarh, or other places south. One of the most vivid memories I have of those road trips is of the state tourism department resorts that were strung out along the highway in Punjab and Haryana. All the resorts in Punjab were named after trees, and all the resorts in Haryana were named after birds — Barbet (Sohna), Dabchick (Hodal), Bluebird (Hisar), Bulbul (Jind). We never stayed at any of these resorts because our final destination was always a big city, but we stopped for meals and loo breaks here. Even as a child, I was fascinated by Haryana’s delightfully ornithological resorts: they were, at least back then, fairly clean and well-maintained. In 1980s, when posh hotels and smart restaurants were generally restricted to major cities, these resorts seemed relatively upmarket to me: a far cry from the dhabas that otherwise lined the highways.

A masjid at Asigarh Fort, also known as Hansi Fort, situated in Hansi. Photo by the writer

It never struck me back then why we never stopped en route to actually do any sightseeing in Haryana. Yes, Nek Chand’s Rock Garden and the Rose Garden, both in Chandigarh, were popular tourist sites, but that was it. Haryana stretched, flat and mundane, with nothing worth seeing, nothing worth stopping for.

Ruins of Firoz Shah Tughlaq’s palace complex in Hisar. Photo by the writer

This has remained the norm ever since I can remember. Not just for my family, but for countless others. If you live in the National Capital Region (NCR), Haryana is merely on the way to Himachal Pradesh, to cool mountains, fresh air, and Instagrammable landscapes. If you want a leisurely drive, you halt overnight at Chandigarh. What is there to explore in Haryana? As an oft-repeated joke has it, “The only culture in Haryana is agriculture.”

Shah Quli Khan’s tomb in Narnaul.

For most North Indians — especially those belonging to the northern plains — the all-too-familiar food, language, music and dance of Haryana may come across as boringly familiar. Compare this ‘culture’ to that of Rajasthan (as an example), or even Punjab, and Haryana comes across as a poor cousin. But, if we would only stop to think, we might consider the case of Agra, Jaipur and Delhi, which form the other two corners of the famed tourist circuit known as the Golden Triangle. They have a good deal of some form of culture — Jaipur, in fact, has more than its fair share, even of the rather touristy culture. What of Agra, though? Agra, if you look at it closely, owes pretty much all of its attractiveness as a tourist destination to its history, not to its culture.

State govt plans

The Haryana government is dedicated to transforming the state into a premier tourist destination. Our vision encompasses the promotion of farm tourism and homestays, providing authentic rural experiences that support local communities. We are enhancing religious tourism by preserving sacred sites and promoting pilgrimage circuits. Adventure tourism is a key focus, with significant developments in areas like Morni Hills. Our cultural and heritage tourism initiatives include the development of historical sites like Mahendragarh and Madhogarh. — Prabhjot Singh, Director, Tourism, Haryana

A metal sculpture depicting a scene from the Battle of Panipat (1526) beside Ibrahim Lodhi’s tomb in Panipat.

Tourists from far and wide go to Agra for the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort, and the many other historical monuments the city boasts of. Not for any Agra-specific culture. If history minus any very exotic, colourful ‘culture’ can be a draw, surely Haryana has a chance. Look at the history of this state, at its very location. Situated between Punjab (of which it once was a part) and Delhi, Haryana has been at a crossroads of politics and empire for many centuries. For hordes of people entering India through the land route from West and Central Asia, whether for peaceful purposes (trade, in particular) or spurred on by greed for land, power or wealth, the Khyber Pass was the gateway. From there, it was southwards to Lahore, and on to Delhi — with a substantial section of the route lying in Haryana.

17th-century Yadavindra or Pinjore Gardens.

For invaders — whether marauders like Taimur, Nadir Shah, or Ahmad Shah Abdali; or empire-seeking conquerors like Mohammad Ghori or Babar — the road to Delhi was emphatically through Haryana. Tarain/Taraori, Panipat, Karnal (and, if you go back into ancient history or mythology, Kurukshetra), some of India’s most crucial battles were fought on the soil of Haryana.

 The Rakhigarhi archaeological site near Hisar.

It wasn’t just battlefields Haryana was known for. This was a strategic area, and recognised as such by many over the centuries, from Prithviraj Chauhan to Firoz Shah Tughlaq, to George Thomas, the Irish raja of Hansi. They built palaces and forts, temples and mosques. They excavated canals and raised impressive mausoleums to commemorate the lives of those they venerated.

Ibrahim Lodhi, defeated and killed when Babar invaded India, is buried in Haryana, at Panipat (where he lost the battle in 1526). His tomb is a nondescript one, set in a small public park. It’s a standard neighbourhood park: swings, benches, trees, hedges, lawns. On a brick platform, Lodhi’s tomb is a simple plastered cenotaph. Below, on the ground, is a rather tacky metal sculpture depicting a scene from the battle. We visited Ibrahim Lodhi’s tomb last year, stopping by on a whim while returning from a trip to Himachal. We were the only people visiting the place, and local passersby looked surprised that we wanted to visit the park.

As a result of that visit to Ibrahim Lodhi’s tomb last year, I decided we needed to see more of Haryana. This year, therefore, before the summer set in, we made a two-day trip to Hisar. En route, we stopped for a couple of hours at the fascinating archaeological site of Rakhigarhi, home to the largest excavated Indus Valley civilisation site discovered so far. At Hisar itself, we visited the ruins of Firoz Shah Tughlaq’s palace complex, including the standalone palace known as Gujari Mahal. In nearby Hansi, we explored the sprawling, impressive fort of Asigarh, locally known as Prithviraj Chauhan’s fort, but probably constructed well before his time.

In none of these places were there any other tourists. There were other visitors, but very few; and they consisted entirely of boys or young men out on a jaunt. Some were playing cricket, some were wandering about taking photos of each other. None were really interested in all the history around them.

Perhaps they are not to blame; the general air around each of these monuments (barring Rakhigarhi, where ongoing excavations mean there’s an atmosphere of anticipation) is of indifference. The staff are lackadaisical or non-existent (Asigarh, despite its vastness, did not have a single guard or caretaker in evidence), and the signages are few and far between. Asigarh, again, is a case in point: this is one of Haryana’s most historic forts, but there is not a single sign here to explain the history or significance of any of the buildings within the fort.

Though our trip to Hisar, Rakhigarhi and Hansi was very short, it made me realise just how much potential Haryana has, and how tragically it is being wasted. Scattered across the length and breadth of the state are dozens of interesting old forts, tombs, palaces, serais, temples, mosques and more. The tomb of Sheikh Chilli at Thanesar; the tombs of Shah Wilayat Khan and Shah Quli Khan at Narnaul (which, by the way, has another claim to fame: it was the birthplace of Birbal); the Jal Mahal and the Chor Gumbad, also at Narnaul; the tomb of Khwaja Khizr at Sonepat; the ancient Buddhist stupa of Chaneti… and those are just a handful of the more magnificent, better-maintained monuments. Yet, how many people, besides the locals, know of these?

There is a growing interest in history and historical monuments among Delhiites (and others in the NCR). Haryana, on Delhi’s doorstep, and with a rich historical heritage, could be a viable option as a weekend destination. The climate, exactly like NCR’s, can be off-putting for those wanting to head for the coolness of the hills, but during monsoon and winter, this area would be pleasant. And, with distances between towns (and therefore tourist attractions) being relatively short, a lot could be seen in just a two-day trip.

What is needed, though, is better tourist infrastructure. The highways are good, and there are fairly good rest stops with food courts and so on along the way; but in the towns themselves, there are few good hotels. The sort of dependable four and five-star chain hotels one can choose to stay at in Rajasthan (for example) are scarce outside of towns like Gurugram, Manesar and Faridabad, which are a stone’s throw from Delhi.

If hotel chains are invited to establish properties, chances are more tourists will be willing to spend a night or two in Haryana rather than just drive by. Then, there needs to be an improved experience at monuments. Better signages, more involved and informed staff. None of the monuments we visited were ticketed; introducing a charge (even if nominal, as is common across India) might work to increase the credibility of the place, while also providing some funds towards the upkeep. At the same time, efforts must be made to educate and sensitise staff, to make them aware of the crucial part they play in the overall experience at a monument.

And, of course, there needs to be an awareness campaign aimed at potential travellers. Something along the lines of Kerala’s famous ‘God’s Own Country’ or Madhya Pradesh’s ‘The Heart of Incredible India’ — promotions which showcase the rich historical background of Haryana. It’s about time Haryana made its presence felt in the Golden Triangle.

— The writer is a Delhi-based author

#Kashmir #Srinagar

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